The availability of pain medicines for humans in our society has stimulated more awareness of pain management options for our animal companions, especially after surgical procedures or an injury.
How does a human know that an animal is experiencing pain? Dogs and cats don’t communicate pain verbally, but their behaviors can be very telling. A pet that usually follows its owner from room to room in the house may convey that they it is pain by displaying a reluctance to move. A pet that’s known to greet its owner’s arrival at the door may not do so out of pain. Cat owners may notice their cat chooses not to jump onto its favorite windowsills when the cat is experiencing pain. They may also find that their cat is having trouble using a deep-pan litter box.
Conventional medicines like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (examples include carprofen and meloxicam) are effective in relieving pain, but can have undesirable side effects on kidney and liver health. The advantage that complementary methods of pain control such as acupuncture, herbal medicines, and cold laser have over conventional medicines is a reduction in possible adverse side effects.
Combining acupuncture with analgesic drugs delivers acceptable pain control with a lower dose of the conventional medicine, thereby lowering the risks to organ function. Almost every medical condition can be addressed with acupuncture, but it is classically known for its ability to control pain.
Acute pain from physical injury results from a local stagnation of Qi or of Blood, depending on the severity of force involved. Acupuncture enhances the body’s self-healing and can reduce swelling, generate pain relief, hasten healing, and restore the normal transmission of nerve impulses. Electroacupuncture produces an even greater anti-inflammatory effect than dry needling. Aquapuncture is also available, in which certain liquid medicines are injected into the acupuncture site to prolong the beneficial stimulations.
Cold lasers, as opposed to cutting lasers, are becoming popular in both integrative and conventional veterinary practices. When used regularly, we see less post-operative pain in our patients. Class III lasers require more time per treatment session, but have less risk of harmful side effects than Class IV lasers.
There are a number of biological effects produced by laser therapies that make this a valuable aid in treating post-surgical or traumatic pain and inflammation. Laser stimulation activates the lymphactic drainage system, reduces pro-inflammatory mediators, and lessens painful inflammation. The analgesic effect is generated by the suppression of nociceptors [a sensory neuron (nerve cell) that responds to potentially damaging stimuli by sending signals to the spinal cord and brain], the increase of stimulation threshold, and the increased release of tissue endorphins. Laser treatments are helpful for immediate pain relief with a single treatment as well as extended long term relief with just a few, brief sessions.
Chiropractic manipulations are popular for the treatment of injuries and chronic lameness, but can also be effective for acute pain relief. Proper alignment of the skeletal system allows the joints (motor units) to work at their optimum, which means the patient is not expending energies needlessly, trying to overcome stiffness, resistance, and discomfort of subluxations. When the spinal joints are functioning at their best, the nerves emanating from the spine are also receiving their proper nutrition through osmosis, and this will keep the body’s immune system primed for optimum vigilance against disease.
There are numerous Chinese herbal medicine formulas which we rely on for continued pain relief on a daily basis, depending on the Eastern method of diagnosis. The balanced formulas are preferred over single herbs to avoid an upset of Qi harmony.